The common hand washing mistakes we all make Our hands are our greatest gifts, yet, if not taken care of, they become our greatest problem. They are without a doubt, one of the most useful parts of our body and also our first point of contact with almost everything, be it an inanimate object or a living thing. We use them to socialize through handshakes, holding hands, carrying loads, playing with our animals and picking objects just to name a few. In our society, we use them to eat as well and even locally call them ‘the spoon God gave us’. What we don’t realize is that as we go on with our daily lives and make full use of our hands, there are other creatures that also use them too. Yes, we are not alone on this one. There are other creatures that we cannot see with our naked eyes which are called microorganisms or germs. But trust me, let me say that everyone on earth has felt their presence at some point in their lives and I as a medical student have been privileged to see some with the aid of a microscope. If these organisms were just relaxing on our hands we would all have had a happy life and would not have even noticed their presence. However, it is the diseases they carry that are a cause for concern. We frequently touch our eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can get into our bodies through these sites and make us sick. Microorganisms from our hands can get into our food and drinks while we prepare or consume them. Under certain conditions, they can also multiply in some types of foods and drinks and can be transferred to other objects such as handrails, table tops, or toys, and then transfer to other people`s hands. To reduce the risk of contracting and spreading infections, hand washing is always recommended. According to the Center for Disease Control CDC, hand-washing education in the community reduces the number of people who get sick from diarrhea by 31%, reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%, reduces respiratory illnesses (cold) in the general population by 16-21% as well as reduce eye and skin infections. Well, having said that, I understand that most communities have already been sensitized on the importance of hand washing to one’s health. However, what we fail to teach communities is how to effectively wash hands in order to eliminate 99.9% germs, as is claimed by the manufacturers of Dettol Soap. This, I learnt about after my third year in Medical School and only then I realized the deficiencies in my hand washing. If you pardon me, I will first start with the water we use to wash our hands. In our community, again, we usually bring a big bowl of water for a couple of people to wash their hands in. I have personally done this before (please don’t judge me) and I am sure most of us have done it too. But the problem with this act is that after the first person washes his/her hands the water is no longer clean because obviously the germs, our little friends (allow me to give them that privilege) would have already colonized the water in the bowl thereby defeating the whole purpose of driving them away. This is why it is important to use clean water preferably running tap water when washing our hands. Something else we are guilty of is washing our hands with just plain water. Let me boldly say just plain water cannot kill microorganism. In fact, we might be giving them a helping hand to grow by providing them a favorable moist environment. So to keep your hands clean, it is preferable to wash them with soap and clean running water. My dear readers, I wish it were that simple and I would have concluded at this point but here comes the tricky part. Did you know that running your hands under water with a little soap isn’t enough? In fact, studies have found that only 70% of people wash their hands and only 30% of those people wash their hands with soap. It’s a start, but not enough to adequately kill germs. The backs of hands (especially the back of the thumb), in between fingers and finger tips are often missed or left out during the hand washing process. That means we just aren’t killing off the germs. One thing I love about our smart little friends is that they are real hustlers and they know how to survive. While we are busy washing our hands with running water and soap, they are busy hiding in the areas we tend to miss when washing our hands as mentioned above. Wait a minute, this is like a debate and it looks like our “little friends” are for the motion of spreading diseases and we are against the motion, rebutting their every point. Well, trust the human race to rebut again with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended steps for hand washing which will help us remember all the missed spots when washing our hands thereby effectively minimizing the spread of diseases. All health-care workers, care-givers or persons involved directly or indirectly in patient-care need to be concerned about what I will simply call hand hygiene. We should all be able to perform it correctly and at the right time but I believe we can go a step further to perfect the art too. How to hand wash? After wetting our hands with water and applying enough soap to cover all hand surfaces, here are the six (6) simple steps to follow: 1. Rub hands palm to palm 2. Place right palm over left dorsum (the back of the hand) with interlaced fingers and vice versa. 3. Palm to Palm with fingers interlaced 4. Fingers interlocked with the back of the fingers opposing the palm 5. Rotational rubbing of the left thumb clasped in the right palm and vice versa 6. Rotational rubbing with clasped fingers of the right hand in left palm and vice versa. After this we continue the usual washing off of the soap from our hands, dry hands thoroughly with a single use towel and Voila! as the French man will say, your hands are safe. I think we are winning the competition, aren’t we? Up until now, problem solved but we hope our clever little friends don’t come up with another plan and if they ever do we hope to strike back with a heavy blow. The author is a 4th year medical student of the UTG School of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences. She is currently the Information and Public Relations Officer of UniGaMSA (University of The Gambia Medical Students’ Association) and also an active debater for her school. By Fanta Fofana]]>
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